Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Marvel Spotlight #4

OK, OK - I know that it's certainly been more than a week, but it's tough keeping my blog somewhat organized with so little sleep (my 6 month old always keeps us guess as to whether she's going to make it through the night). It's not a good idea to look at too many Steve Ditko covers on 2 hours sleep, as you start to see the world through his eyes. Here's a really stylish cover from 1980. It's obvious that Marvel had high hopes for Ditko's return as the is the first of two consecutive issues labelled as an all-new classic. Readers of my blog might notice an interdimensional similarity to the Out of This World cover I posted last year. Yup - it's the same gimmick nearly a quarter century later, but it still works. With hindsight, it seems pretty obvious that Ditko and Mar-Vell are a great fit - but somehow Sturdy Steve never got much sci-fi work with the Big Two. There are a lot of great Ditko covers from this short-lived series, but I'm dedicated to spreading the wealth among various publishers and titles so it may be a while before I spotlight it again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Recent Review - Green Arrow: Road to Jericho

As regular readers on here might have guessed, I don't buy too many new books. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Oliver Queen, though - so I've been keeping up with this new series via trades. Overall, I think that it's been a pretty strong ride from the earliest Kevin Smith issues to the more recent Judd Winnick stuff. It's not perfect - as I feel that the plot is often rushed along (I read the previous trade "Crawling Through the Wreckage" during on 25 minute streetcar ride home from work), but the whole Arrow Family is pretty well fleshed out making for believable relationships.

With this edition, we are smack dab in the middle of a power play for the mayor's office as Ollie is facing a recall election. This is nicely contrasted to some flashbacks to the training sessions that went on during his 'year off'. Some of it may be a bit over the top, but at least we get to see a new seriousness in Ollie that he ultimately takes into political life. Like any 'Family' book, there's the danger of too many cooks spoiling the broth, but Mia and Connor are used effectively and Roy and Dinah only show up for support near the end. Winnick doesn't go overboard with the guest stars as we only really have Batman showing up for an extended visit. What I really like most about what Winnick has done is to bring some gravitas to certain villians. Deathstroke, Merlyn and Drakon all bring some serious sinister to the table, and Brick's uneasy alliance with Oliver comes to a messy end. This was my first exposure to Jason Todd/Red Hood and he seems like a decent villain. The interchange between Ollie and Batman about who screwed up their sidekicks the most was pretty priceless.

I like Winnick - he does go a bit over the top at times, but he knows how to write a superhero book and the political stuff is pretty solid. The McDaniel/Owens team is decent - but I'd really love it if Hester and Parks returned - they provided a better mixture of elegance and intensity. In the end, it was an enjoyable ride and I'll continue to stick with this series (via trades) as it is a consisitently good read. Overall Grade: B+

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Power Man and Iron Fist #67

When I try to look at this book from a rational perspective, I know full well that it isn't Watchmen or The Spirit, but there's got to be some reason I've read it over 10 times. As a kid, I liked this title, but it was never up there with Avengers, Brave and the Bold or Spider-Man, but everything seems to come together with this issue. It's actually quite amazing how much is accomplished in a single issue - we've got a headscratcher of a bank heist, a missing hero, a quick origin recap, a heroic rescue and a cliffhanger ending. Mary Jo Duffy really seems to know how to make a superhero book work. Bob Rodi wrote an interesting letter to the Editor (he acknowledges that Duffy is his friend) comparing PM & IF to Asterix and Obelix (as the ultimate 'buddy' comic strip). The key is having two disparate characters interacting in a realistic and yet entertaining way. When Luke goes missing, you really get a feel for Danny's desperation. The art team of Kerry Gammil and Ricardo Villamonte is also very, very strong - giving off a bit of a Byrne/Austin vibe. Did I mention the cool Frank Miller cover? All in all - it's great stuff and my guess is that you can track this down in a bargain bin and enjoy a very good read.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Charlton Notebook: Space War #30

While I'm absolutely nuts for Charlton horror books, there are also some real gems in the sci-fi realm. In the late 70s, Charlton relaunched Space War as a reprint book. I'm guessing that it didn't sell all that well, but what a treat they are to read today. Space War #30 is a prime example. We start off with a Ditko cover originally used for the Out of This World series in the 50s. The lead story is an early 70s Gill/Staton story - nothing too original but I love how Staton draws technological gadgetry. The next story is very interesting, as it features Tom Sutton pencilling over Wally Wood layouts. It's from the mid-60s, so it must have been some of Sutton's earliest work and you don't see Wood's name pop up too often in a Charlton book. Finally, we are rewarded with one of those great late 50s Ditko stories that just look so cool you wish that you could wallpaper your room with it. This series is selling for peanuts on eBay and through online retailers, so I strongly suggest grabbing a few copies before everyone gets in on the secret.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Marvel Treasury Edition #18

When I as growing up, I absolutely loved treasury-sized comics. There was just something special in the oversized format. I realize why I find them a bit awkward today. I used to read them spread out on the floor - perhaps with milk and cookies within reach. I put in a lot less floor time these days, so standard format is my current preference. I must have spent countless hours on my living room floor reading my Star Wars, Hulk and Batman treasury editions. To this day, one of my favourites remains Marvel Treasury Edition #18: The Astonishing Spider-Man. For whatever reason, you don't see this one for sale all that often. That's a shame because the covers (front and back) are worth the price of admission. It's a great little trick, having the heroes on the front and the villains on the back - very cool.

This book features reprints of early Marvel Team-Up stories. MTU was one of my regular reads at the time, so it was a great fit for me. I believe that this was my first exposure to the X-Men, which is kinda of weird as this story is from the 'lost years' as the team floated around the periphery of the Marvel Universe in their street clothes. I'd never seen Morbius before either, and he comes across as a particularly unattractive fellow in the oversized format. Iron Fist was one of my favourite characters in the late 70s and early 80s, and this was pretty strong story. I don't think I was aware of Werewolf By Night back then, but what kid doesn't love a werewolf?

To this day, the real appeal of this treasury book is the Ghost Rider story. I was a big GR fan back then - right up until 1982 or so. This story features the Orb, whose giant Eyeball helmet makes him look like a reject from the Resident. He comes across as your typical motorcycle riding bad guy until the time comes for the big reveal. And what a reveal! His disfigured face is enough to make any kid swear off riding bicycles, never mind motorcycles. It looks even more gruesome treasury sized. I'm certain that I can attribute at least a handful of childhood nightmares to this story. Well, the cover certainly promised me 'Exciting Surprises'.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Outland Revisited

I've always liked this film, but over the past decade or so I've heard many people refer to it as weak High Noon rip-off. Unfortunately, sometimes a film can develop such a reputation that it is difficult to see it without importing certain biases. I caught it again on late night digital cable last week, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I still like it. Sure, it has flaws as well as elements of High Noon, but the whole coroporate corruption angle makes for a nice 80s update.

The real strongpoint here is Connery's slow burn. Like many of you, I kind of cringe when I think of much of the Scotsman's work over the past 20 years. Here, he is at his best when he is very human - best represented in the scene where his wife leaves him by video message (nice). I don't recall ever feeling sorry for a Connery character before. I'd say that this film is primed for a remake, but it really hasn't aged all that much. Sure, some of the computer screen shots could use an upgrade, but the sets and costumes are as effective as they are low tech. Much like John Carpenter's the Thing, and Ridley Scott's Alien - the atmosphere here is palpable, it's one of desperation compounded by remoteness. For a thinking man's thriller, you can do much worse than Outland. Now, if only they'd stop showing the same dark and dirty print on TV!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Reprint This! Blackhawk #252-#273

Here's a new feature to my blog - a chance to highlight all of the good stuff that should be put into TPB form for all to enjoy. I'm starting with a fairly obvious choice, but many of you may not be aware of the wonderful take on Blackhawk by the team of Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle. Blackhawk is a tough, tough series to keep fresh as, in many ways, it was no longer a viable strip after the end of WW2. The series was kept alive at Quality and it was still quite an entertaining read in the 50s. The transition to DC was a rough one, and the Junk Heap Heroes experiment could have proven fatal.

The final two issues of that Blackhawk series, pencilled by personal favourite Pat Boyette, were the strongest Blackhawk stories in eons. My guess is that Mark Evanier had those issues in mind when he started writing this early 80s masterpiece. Somehow Evanier and Dan Spiegle were able to find the right balance of action, adventure, drama and humour that had eluded so many Blackhawk creators in the past. Even though the war was ancient history, the Evanier/Spiegle team created a timeless feel to their book and made us relive the threat of Hitler and the Nazis as well as the optimism in the Blackhawks' cause.

Many comic books have tried to return to WW2 (Wonder Woman in World's Finest, the Invaders) but none made it as compelling as this series. Dan Spiegle remains one of the most underrated comic book artists of all-time and I am starting to see he and Evanier as one of the greatest collaborative teams in comic book history. Spiegle can draw everything and anything, and his stories move along beautifully. Perhaps that is why he is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as a Kirby or and Adams - he never makes you stop and say 'Wow - look at that!' He just knows how to tell a story. As a bonus, you've got wonderful covers by the likes of Kane and Cockrum.

This is a perfect candidate for reprint treatment, and I simply cannot understand why DC hasn't done it yet!